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Business Thoughts and Musings

Fragile and Interdependent at every level

We often forget how our individual reliance on the facilities of our town and city are echoed at the scale of nations

I have a general observation, one that is often overlooked

None of our societies are intrinsically stable or sustainable in isolation.

From at least the start of the industrial revolution, communities exceeded the capability of simple farming, homesteading, local administration, and self-provided infrastructure to provide sufficient capacity at the point of need. In fact, much of our history has been about human social and organisational development, driven by the limits of individuals to provide for basic human needs. We are social animals that do much better as groups, and the bigger the group the more successful we are, in general. However, while the whole is observably greater than the sum of the parts, there is a cost.

Increased specialisation is possible within large social groups and the biggest physical groups are cities and industrial centres, frequently running to many millions of individuals. While this can be shown  to give rise to accelerated learning, productivity and economic growth, most of the individuals are utterly dependant on cities to provide for their basic and higher needs. There is a strong-co-dependency between the survival of cities and individuals.

The complexity involved requires massively sophisticated control mechanisms, supply chains, materials and more; all the more impressive for how unobtrusive these things generally are. A considerable proportion of the population are primarily concerned with ensuring the continued and efficient functioning of our industrial civilisation centres. Our dominant global role as a species is a reflection of application of know-how at a massive scale.

Zooming out further… the same co-dependence that we see between individuals and their supporting cities also exists between cities and their nation-states and then between nations and the global economy. Whether the continued increase in communications is cause or effect in this is moot; we exist in a globe-spanning economy, interdependence between nations is increasingly a matter of survival. There are few nations that are even close to self-sufficient in any need; only a limited number can feed themselves or provide vital services such as electricity without relying on other nations to balance out capacity demands.  It has been estimated that world food reserves would last 74 days. The UK produced just under half food the country consumes, down from 75% in 1991. It’s estimated that UK food reserves are around 10 days, maybe less.

Our societies are both hugely resilient, yet also fragile.

At whichever scale you wish to view it, we are massively dependent on sophisticated logistics, supported in turn by complex modelling, collaboration and communication networks. As we reach the capacity of humans to assimilate and act on the big data at our disposal, using  the accumulated knowledge and experience of decades, we are now training our machines to understand and manage the complexity. This isn’t simply about making more money; without this level of sophistication we cannot supply food and more that keeps the great engine of modern human existence running. Technology is about survival.

In my next article I will consider how Productivity and Resilience are an essential but often misunderstood element of business, and then ponder what that means for this interconnected world.

By Simon Hudson

Interests: Knowledge management; Information Architecture; Flexible working technologies

Passions: Physics, music, classic cars

Aspirations: To drive a V8 Vantage to the Amalfi Coast; to play guitar to a crowd of 1000+; to ski more than once a year; to make a difference

Background: From teaching to quality assurance, technical development to international marketing and from business development to business start-ups, Simon has flitted, butterfly like, learning from each experience and bringing that breadth to his client facing and business development activities. Simon is articulate, opinionated, understanding and suffers from an insatiable curiosity.

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